Mauritius government to hire independent arbitrator to address sugar labour issues
Even as sugar workers have gone on strike since morning, MSPA members informed labour minister Shakeel Mohamed that they are unable to increase their offer further, which has already escalated from their initial position of a 8.5% salary increase, to 11% hike in pay, and an increase of several ‘fringe benefits’ and other allowances alongside. (Image: Indian Ocean Times)
Mauritius’ sugar sector, a major contributor towards economic development and stability on the island, is currently facing a difficult situation with members of the Mauritius Sugar Producers’ Association (MSPA) at odds with sugar workers over wage negotiations.
AfricaMoney had earlier reported that MSPA was trying to cap the salary increase at 8.5%. Since then, following a meeting held on November 17, 2014, the MSPA ultimately made an offer of a temporary salary increase of 11% for sugar workers, which, however, remains below worker expectations.
The members informed labour minister Shakeel Mohamed that they are unable to increase their offer further, which has already escalated from their initial position of a 8.5% salary increase, to 11% hike in pay, and an increase of several ‘fringe benefits’ and other allowances alongside.
The labour minister has accordingly proposed to MSPA members that the government would make an appeal to an independent arbitrator to settle the dispute in the sugar sector, and the members duly accepted the proposal on Tuesday afternoon, November 18, 2014.
This arbitration would have the advantage of setting the process on legal grounds and the concerned parties would then be required to execute the arbitrator’s recommendations.
MSPA members, for their part, expressed conviction that their arguments are reasonable and said that they have no hesitation to take recourse to an independent arbitrator, as proposed by the Labour Minister.
MSPA maintains its proposal for a temporary wage increase of 11%, while waiting for the final recommendations of the arbitrator who has the power to determine the percentage that he considers fair and reasonable.
This implies that MSPA members might find themselves constrained to pay more than 11% in the form of temporary salary increases across the board, if the arbitrator so decides.
However, in case the arbitrator recommends a lower percentage, the members have already made a commitment to guarantee a minimum increase of 11%.
Earlier, the Joint Negotiating Panel (JNP) has rejected the Minister’s proposal because they do not want to comply with an exercise of arbitration, which would be ‘binding’ for both parties.
Therefore, the members of the MSPA have no other choice than to finalize their preparations to deal better with a strike which is underway this morning.
The members of the MSPA made it a point to find out how sugar-producing establishments fared this morning, as the level of attendance of employees was approximately 30%.
“As we have always maintained, everybody loses from a strike and it is very deplorable that matters have come to this stage. We remind you that we had made several proposals, by going even beyond what the current economic situation of the sector would allow, to find a ‘win-win’ situation and avoid this strike,” Gilbert Espitalier Noel, President of the MSPA, stated.
He added that they make a double appeal to the labor union today because firstly, it is important that the strike takes place peacefully and, especially, with due respect for the rights of all concerned.
Secondly, they reiterated their request to the JNP so that these disputes are referred to Employment Relations Tribunal.
The obvious reason for MSPA’s refusal to increase salaries further even in the face of strikes, are the growing threats to the sector – the reduction in the price of the sugar at Rs 12,500 the ton, the depreciation of the Euro against the rupee and a fall in production that have an adverse impact on the income of the sector.